GP Taylor: A love letter to the vanishing art of handwriting

I WAS 14 when I wrote my first piece of poetry. It was a fumbled ode of love to a Convent girl. I scrawled it in black fountain pen on a piece of paper stolen from school. It was written in graphic letters with twisting spirals and curls.

Do schools spend sufficient time teaching the importance of handwriting?

Sadly, it has been over two years since I last hand-wrote a letter. I even have to confess that I do not own a pen. Everything in my life revolves around using my laptop. As a writer, I find it easier to use technology rather than paper. I can edit my work as I go along and save time. In my life, handwriting has become a lost art.

In schools, children as young as five are now taking their first steps in the use of technology. Computer tablets are being used more and more as part of mainstream education for children. It is all part of a digital lifestyle that is beginning for many at an earlier and earlier age. I fear that handwriting may not become an integral part of school life.

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Over the summer, there have been many stories about how young people have become addicted to games such as Fortnite. Research suggest that children aged between eight and 18 years spend seven-and-a-half hours a day looking at some kind of screen.

Has handwriting become a lost art?

Health experts believe that too many hours spent looking at a screen can lead to obesity, sleep and behaviour problems. As schools bring more devices into the classroom, are they fuelling the problem?

It will take a generation before the full effect of the screen time epidemic is known. In that time, the damage to our children may be irreversible.

It is already known that young people who have televisions in their bedrooms do worse in academic testing.

In many schools, the chalkboard has been replaced 
by an interactive screen and workbooks by iPads connected to wifi.

Most schools have wifi in classrooms, even though there is a growing body of research that says continued exposure to wifi is a danger to health.

As the use of wifi increases in British schools, many countries around the world are banning it in education.

France passed a law in 2015 banning wifi from all nursery schools. In addition to that, the law states that wifi must be turned off in all elementary schools when it’s not in use. A wired connection is preferred.

It’s not just a concern for children, the French National Library and many others in Paris, along with several universities, have completely removed all wifi networks, and it’s also banned in many municipal buildings.

Technology is brewing a dangerous cocktail, and we are yet to find out the effects it will have on our children.

One thing is certain, writing by hand is on the decline for a lot of adults and we must not let this happen to our children through their increased use of technology.

Angela Webb, a psychologist and chair of the National Handwriting Association, explained that engagement with the physical environment activates certain areas of the brain and stimulates cognitive development. Picking up a pen has a positive impact in the way that it helps to develop the muscles needed to sit at a desk for long periods.

Learning to write by hand aids physical coordination, rhythm, stamina and posture. School students are at risk of physical problems later in life if they are not taught to sit and write properly.

Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England Foundation NHS Trust said, “Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills.

“It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil.”

Students in primary schools in Japan have lessons each week learning “the way of writing”.

They use thick calligraphy brushes to write kanji characters. It’s an art form and takes great skill. At the start of a new year, many children gather in the assembly hall and lay out long sheets of paper, prep their brushes and write something. Writing in Japan has deep cultural roots.

Here too, we should take pride in teaching children how to write. Technology does have its place in education, but writing must be promoted above everything else. It is a skill that goes back to the dawn of time. It is an art form that can be scrawled on the walls of caves or drawn in the sand. It is something that expresses our inner thoughts more than clumping away on a keyboard.

My first job this Wednesday morning is to buy myself a pen and rediscover that which is being lost to so many.

GP Taylor is an author and broadcaster. He lives in Whitby.